It’s been a busy time on Lard Island over the past month. With Salute looming, we’ve been busy working on our annual game which, as so often is the case, is going to be a preview of a new game system: Fighting Season. Followers of the TooFatLardies Twitter feed and Facebook page will have noticed a few snippets here and there as we have been crunching our way through the new rules, always an interesting and challenging time which gets the creative juices well and truly flowing and, for me, provides one of the best buzzes a wargame developer can get; that moment where you can say “Yes. This is really working!”.
What has made the development process all the more interesting is that the main development work to date has been done on the oither side of the world in Australia by well know writer and specialist on ultra-modern warfare, Leigh Neville. Leigh is no stranger to wargames rules, having written numerous rules supplements as well as the Osprey books he is equally well known for. We thought we’d ask Leigh to tell us a bit about what Fighting Season is all about.
Leigh told us “I’ve been developing the “ultra-modern” supplement for Chain of Command for almost two years now, almost from the moment COC was released to the masses. By “ultra- modern” I mean the recent asymmetric conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq. My regular opponent, Mick Collins, and I saw an immediate opportunity to extend the mechanisms that make COC superb at gaming small unit actions in the Second World War to the insurgencies of today (Mick reckons that COC does asymmetric even better than conventional but that’s a discussion for another day). Either way, Chain of Command serve as an outstanding basis for a set of ultra-modern wargame rules.”
Good to know. So what was it that captured Leig and Mick’s imaginations? Leigh goes on: “First and foremost it’s the Patrol Phase. Gone are the artificial deployment zones and straight away, you as the platoon commander, are forced into conducting what amounts to a pretty serious terrain appreciation before you start to probe the forward line of troops. This beautifully abstracts both physical reconnaissance by specialist units and the process of intelligence preparation of the battlefield (IPB) through ISTAR (Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance – read that as overhead UAVs and aircraft, Special Forces and all manner of signals and human intelligence). The Patrol Phase also lets us model, through scenario modifiers, all sorts of operations from surprise air-assaults onto a target compound to presence patrols moving into a village of questionable allegiances.
Next, it’s the Command Dice mechanism- combined with the troop rating system, we have been able to model every combatant in both theatres. Need a determined enemy with decent warfighting skills but with poor C3 (command, control and communication)? Fanatical Regulars but four Command Dice. A local insurgency with rudimentary skills and similarly poor C3? Green with four Command Dice. Tier One Special Forces? Elite with six Command Dice (and maybe a few classified advantages…). You get the picture. What the Command Dice rolls allow us to do is also easily customised- we can model the C3 limitations of the insurgent whilst also modelling the relative tactical flexibility of the Coalition warfighters.
Finally the combat system with its emphasis on Shock. Read any modern first-person account of small unit combat and you will soon note that winning the firefight revolves around suppressing the enemy. The system of Shock and its morale effects, suitably modified to simulate the unique position of Coalition Forces that literally have nowhere to run if routed, fits this model perfectly. Get enough of an accurate weight of fire, using the right weapons systems, against the target and they will break, sometimes without a single casualty incurred. Again the COC system allows us the room to modify the core system to reflect current tactical realities without breaking the system or bogging us down in innumerable “special rules”. Time and again we found that existing COC mechanisms could be slightly modified to bring things forward fifty plus years. That this can be done, creditably, for both Afghanistan 2014 and Seville 1937 points to a pretty damned robust rules engine under the hood.
Leigh has been working very closely with Richard over the past few months now as intensive playtesting has been under way on Lard Island. We asked Richard how things have been progressing. “Very well. We are somewhat behind schedule as I did my back in before Christmas and couldn’t sit to paint up the required toys for playtesting. However, we are previewing the rules at Salute in just a few weeks time, so work has been intense to say the least. What we are striving for is a system which doesn’t reinvent the wheel, its important that current players of Chain of Command can plug straight in to Fighting Season. That has been Leigh’s and my over-arching design goal.”
How has it been working on opposite sides of the world? “Surprisingly easy actually. When I finish a game at the club, I will send Leigh a report and by the time I get up the next morning all the answers are there. It’s a bit like me leaving my rough ideas out overnight, and in the morning the elves have stitched them together and made sense of them. I’m also helped by a healthy does of insomnia, so we’ve been able to have some prety productive late night/early morning discussions. What has really helped is that both of us are committed to producing a set of rules which provide challenges for both sides. Leigh wrote in the Christmas Special that he didn’t want this to be “Whack-a-mole” and I think that’s right. There’s no game in technology rich “good guys” zapping “bad guys” at will. This needs to be a sensible consideration of Insurgent and Coalition tactics and the rules must allow either side to win if they play to their own particular strengths.”
That must be challenging? “Sure, but then all game design is challenging. What is the real challenge is not the simulation of tactics, but turning that into an enjoyable and challenging game. There are a very different set of dynamics to consider when comparing modern warfare with WWII, but that tends to change the flavour of the game rather than changing the core mechanics which, as Leigh says, are robust due to their inherrent simplicity. The core move, shoot, morale elements of Chain of Command are so simple that they become intuitive. All the player has to concentrate on is the command dice and choose whatever tactical options are best for him within that phase. That’s the beauty of the rules and what allows them to be so flexible when shifting them to periods other than WWII”.
So, it looks like Salute will see much interest in the rules. Richard plans to run a number of participation games throughout the day. “We thought that short games, probably 45 minutes each just to give the players a taste of how the mechanisms work would be best at this stage. We’ll probably just run one big game with a rolling cast of players. We are always over-subscribed, but this will allow the maximum number of people to get a look at what is coming”>
Talking of which, when can we expect Fighting Season to be published? “I’m aiming for June” says Richard, with his well-known optimism.
Chui (Lieutenant) Tamagotshi Shitake raised his field glasses but even then he could see nothing but green. It mattered not. The Australian positions had been revealed to him yesterday morning when his men of the Nankai Shitai had probed the track towards Isurava. He had chosen not to attack immediately, but rather had taken time